With Men Still Dominating Auction Sales, Yayoi Kusama Set to Break New Record

An early painting by the Japanese artist has been estimated at USD$7–10 million ahead of a Sotheby’s sale in New York

Yayoi Kusama, Horse Play in Woodstock, a happening, 1967.

Yayoi Kusama, Horse Play in Woodstock, a happening, 1967. Courtesy: the artist

Yayoi Kusama, Horse Play in Woodstock, a happening, 1967. Courtesy: the artist

Yayoi Kusama is set for a new auction house record. Untitled (1962) is an early painting by the Japanese artist: it was included in her retrospective exhibition that toured London’s Tate Modern, the Whitney Museum in New York, and Madrid’s Reina Sofía. Now it has been given an estimate of USD$7 million to USD$10 million at Sotheby’s New York.

The work will be up for auction at Sotheby’s contemporary evening sale in New York on 16 May. If it hits the estimate, it will set a new auction record for Kusama since her piece White No. 28 (1960) went for USD$7.1 million at Christie’s, New York, in 2014. That sale made Kusama the most expensive living female artist as measured by auction sales (though she was dethroned by Cady Noland the following year).

Untitled was made soon after the artist came to New York, as the artist began experimenting with cost-free materials for her artworks: its scavenged egg cartons, upholstery stuffing and slashes of ink demonstrate Kusama’s early interest in repetitive motion. One of few examples of the artist’s ‘egg carton’ reliefs, it has been put up for sale by an ‘important private collector’, according to the auction house.

Yayoi Kusama, Untitled, 1962, cardboard egg cartons, cotton batting, oil and ink stitched to linnen, 126 x 147 x 6 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Sotheby’s, New York

Yayoi Kusama, Untitled, 1962, cardboard egg cartons, cotton batting, oil and ink stitched to linnen, 126 x 147 x 6 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Sotheby’s, New York

Yayoi Kusama, Untitled, 1962, cardboard egg cartons, cotton batting, oil and ink stitched to linnen, 126 x 147 x 6 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Sotheby’s, New York

Speaking to frieze in 2011, Kusama described her first journey to the US: ‘I look back on all the scenery I have travelled through with fond memories. The view of the Pacific Ocean I saw from the plane on my first trip to the United States was magnificent. I was looking at it with my mind set on creating lots of works in a new city.’

Artists’s auction sales are still dominated by men, though reports indicate there is slow improvement. Anny Shaw reported last year that institutional interest in female artists was having a ‘knock-on’ effect in the market at large, with an increase in all-female commercial shows and a spate of auction records. Though as Shaw points out, just comparing auction records for a female and male artist, both deceased – Georgia O’ Keefe’s Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1 (1932) at USD$44.4 million, a fraction of Pablo Picasso’s USD$179 million Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) (1955) – shows there’s a long way to go to close the gap.

Kusama is one of the world's most widely recognizable living artists known for her signature polka dot-filled installations such as her series of ‘Obliteration Rooms’ where visitors themselves cover an otherwise empty room with colourful dot stickers. Her infinity-inducing ‘Mirror Room’ series, featuring thousands of tiny flashing LED lights, have toured museums around the world. Her recent installation at the 2018 National Gallery of Victoria Triennial in Australia versioned the ‘Obliteration Room’ series with flowers, with visitors handed faux Gerbera daisies and flower stickers to place wherever they liked. Kusama opened a museum dedicated to her work in Tokyo last year, designed by Kume Sekkei. 

Don't miss our ongoing series Women in the Arts, celebrating women working in the industry.

Most Read

The punk artists’s invasion of the pitch during the Croatia vs. France match reminded us what Russia’s new ‘normality’...
In further news: Brexit voters avoid arts; New York libraries’s culture pass unlocks museums; Grayson Perry-backed...
If artificial intelligence were ever to achieve sentience, could it feasibly produce art? (And would it be good?)
The punk activist-artists have been charged with disruption after they charged the field during the France vs Croatia...
27 educators are taking the London gallery to an employment tribunal, demanding that they be recognized as employees
In further news: Glasgow School of Art to be rebuilt; Philadelphia Museum of Art gets a Frank Gehry-designed restaurant
Highlights from Condo New York 2018 and Commonwealth and Council at 47 Canal: the summer shows to see
Knussen’s music laid out each component as ‘precarious, vulnerable, exposed’ – and his conducting similarly worked from...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...
‘You can’t reason with him but you can ridicule him’ – lightweight as it is, Trump Baby is a win for art as a...
Anderson and partner Juman Malouf are sorting through the treasures of the celebrated Kunsthistorisches Museum for...
From Capote to Basquiat, the pop artist’s glittering ‘visual diary’ of the last years of his life is seen for the first...
‘When I opened Monika Sprüth Galerie, only very few German gallerists represented women artists’
Can a ragtag cluster of artists, curators and critics really push back against our ‘bare’ art world?
In further news: German government buys Giambologna at the eleventh hour; LACMA’s new expansion delayed
Gucci and Frieze present film number two in the Second Summer of Love series, focusing on the history of acid house
Judges described the gallery’s GBP£20 million redevelopment by Jamie Fobert Architects as ‘deeply intelligent’ and a ‘...
Is the lack of social mobility in the arts due to a self-congratulatory conviction that the sector represents the...
The controversial intellectual suggests art would be better done at home – she should be careful what she wishes for
Previously unheard music on Both Directions At Once includes blues as imposing as the saxophonist would ever record
In further news: Macron reconsiders artist residencies; British Council accused of censorship; V&A to host largest...
In our devotion to computation and its predictive capabilities are we rushing blindly towards our own demise?
Arts subjects are increasingly marginalized in the UK curriculum – but the controversial intellectual suggests art is...
An exhibition of performances at Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, unfolds the rituals of sexual encounters
An art historian explains what the Carters’s takeover of the Paris museum says about art, race and power
Artist Andrea Fraser’s 2016 in Museums, Money and Politics lifts the lid on US museum board members and...
The Ruhrtriennale arts festival disinvited the Scottish hip-hop trio for their pro-Palestinian politics, then u-turned
The Baltimore’s director on why correcting the art historical canon is not only right but urgent for museums to remain...
Serpentine swimmers complain about Christo’s floating pyramid; and Hermitage’s psychic cat is a World Cup oracle: the...
The largest mural in Europe by the artist has been hidden for 30 years in an old storage depot – until now
Alumni Martin Boyce, Karla Black, Duncan Campbell and Ciara Phillips on the past and future of Charles Rennie...
In further news: po-mo architecture in the UK gets heritage status; Kassel to buy Olu Oguibe’s monument to refugees
The frieze columnist's first novel is an homage to, and embodiment of, the late, great Kathy Acker
60 years after the celebrated Brutalist architect fell foul of local authorities, a Berlin Unité d’Habitation apartment...
The British artist and Turner Prize winner is taking on the gun advocacy group at a time of renewed debate around arms...
The central thrust of the exhibition positions Sicily as the fulcrum of geopolitical conflicts over migration, trade,...
The Carters’s museum takeover powers through art history’s greatest hits – with a serious message about how the canon...
The 20-metre-high Mastaba finally realizes the artist and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s design
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
US true crime series Unsolved takes two formative pop cultural events to explore their concealed human stories and...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018